Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by English Heritage (A27)

  "We must use our rural development policy to make sure that farmers farm in a way which is environmentally friendly and which contributes to the preservation of our landscape, which, may I say, is essentially a man-made landscape, created by generations of farmers over hundreds of years. This landscape is as much part of our cultural heritage as our historical cities and towns."

  Dr Franz Fischler, Member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, Feeling the Pulse of the CAP (Cernobbio, 19 October 2001).


  1.  English Heritage welcomes the opportunity to offer evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, as we believe that the future of agriculture is inextricably linked to the future quality of the environment and landscape, our national cultural heritage, and the vitality of the UK tourism industry.

  2.  English Heritage is the Government's principal adviser on all aspects of the historic environment in England—including historic buildings and areas, archaeology and the historic landscape—with a remit that extends to both the urban and rural environments. We are sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but work very closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and its sponsored agencies. While we are not directly involved in agriculture or its related industries, our interest in environmental and landscape issues provides us with a considerable stake in the implications of farming and land management policy. In addition, we are closely involved in the England Rural Development Programme (ERDP), sitting alongside our sister environmental agencies on the National Strategy Group for the ERDP and on the National Rural Development Forum. We are also members of the Regional Programming Groups of the ERDP and its Regional Rural Development Consultation Groups.

  3.  Alongside our statutory duty to conserve the heritage, we are also required to advance its understanding and enjoyment by the public. As part of this function we manage an estate of over 400 historic properties—attracting in excess of 11 million visitors annually—the majority of which are in the countryside. We are, therefore, significant participants in the UK tourism business and are aware not only of the major contribution of the industry to rural development, but also the importance that the quality of the historic and natural environment will play in maintaining the vitality of tourism in the future.

  4.  These important linkages between the cultural heritage, the landscape, and economic development are increasingly being recognised by land managers and by government at a regional, national and European level. This is particularly the case in the wake of the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak, not least because of its severe impact on the tourism industry nationally. For example, the report of the Rural Task Force Tackling the impact of foot and mouth disease on the rural economy, released in October, concluded that:

    "Farming and tourism are interdependent and intertwined with the wider rural economy. Farmers have a vital role in the life of the nation as providers of food and managers of the rural landscape. Future policies for farming must take into account the links with the wider rural economy in a way they have not done in the past."


    "Countryside tourism, dependent on access to a landscape heavily influenced by farming, is a powerful economic force in many rural areas, frequently worth more to local economies in GDP terms than the farming that supports it."

  5.  While these linkages between the historic and natural environment, land management and economic development are clear in principle, little research work has been undertaken to quantify the direct benefits to rural economies which accrue from a healthy environment and well-managed landscape. One notable exception to this is Valuing our Environment, research recently published by the National Trust. This study demonstrates that:

    "Some 40 per cent of employment in tourism depends directly on a high quality environment. In a rural context, this dependency rises to between 60 and 70 per cent."

  6.  In the North East of England, for example, the Trust and its partners (including English Heritage) have calculated that 51,666 jobs and £1,106 million (some 5 per cent of regional GDP) depend on a good quality environment. The non-intensive character of much of the farming activity in the region is clearly a major contributor to that quality.

The prospects for production subsidies and quotas, against the backdrop of world trade liberalisation and the mid-term review of the Agenda 2000 reform of the CAP

  7.  English Heritage has no special expertise in the international aspects of agricultural policy, but we are concerned that the current CAP regime encourages poor stewardship of the land and continues to promote degradation of key environmental features, including natural and cultural assets, as well as fundamental resources such as soil and water. The impacts of agriculture on the natural environment and natural resources are reasonably well researched and will, no doubt, be set out in the responses of others providing evidence to the Committee. The impacts on the historic environment are far less well understood. One reason for this is that the research programmes of MAFF (now DEFRA), DETR and NERC have, in the past, been almost entirely focused on ecological rather than cultural assets. For example, the valuable Countryside Survey series, on which much of our understanding of environmental trends is based, does not track changes in the historic environment, resulting in an incomplete picture of change in the countryside. These limitations on data have also been translated into a lack of robust sustainability and best value indicators for the historic environment at national and regional levels. While English Heritage has undertaken some work in this area, much remains to be done, and we hope that the new Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs will begin to develop more holistic scientific, economic and social research programmes in the future.

  8.  Nevertheless, despite the limitations of our data, survey work in England has demonstrated that:

    —  since 1945 agriculture has been the single biggest cause of unrecorded loss of archaeological sites. The Monuments at Risk Survey (MARS) demonstrated that agriculture has been responsible for 10 per cent of all cases of monument destruction between 1945-95 and for some 30 per cent of piecemeal, cumulative damage during the same period. This has resulted in the wholesale loss of at least 2,350 unique and irreplaceable archaeological sites;[15]

    —  thirty-two per cent of all archaeological field monuments and 21 per cent of all scheduled (ie nationally important) field monuments were also shown by MARS to be under damaging arable cultivation when surveyed in 1995. The quality of survival of 68 per cent of all recorded earthwork monuments was categorised as "very poor" or worse;15

    —  a combination of erosion and desiccation induced by cultivation and agricultural drainage has irrevocably damaged or destroyed over 13,000 historic sites in our wetlands, generally our most valuable and best-preserved archaeological resource. These losses are in addition to those cases of damage identified by the MARS survey;[16]

    —  one-third of hedges in England were lost between 1984 and 1993 and that one-third of dry stone walls were derelict in 1994. Although Countryside Survey 2000 suggests that the net losses of hedgerows may have now been halted, this is a result of the establishment of new hedgerows. Older hedgerows—with far greater historic interest and biodiversity value—continue to be lost.17, 18, 19,[17][18][19]

    —  in 1992, 17 per cent of listed farm buildings were "at risk" and 24 per cent "vulnerable" and a 1997 study of unlisted field barns in the Yorkshire Dales National Park—notionally a "protected landscape"—by the Countryside and Community Research Unit of Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education, showed that less than 60 per cent were intact and that dereliction was increasing rapidly;[20]

    —  other distinctive landscape features are also being rapidly destroyed as a result of farm intensification, particularly the ploughing up or improvement of old grassland. A recent English Heritage study of "ridge and furrow" earthwork remains in the Midlands—widely believed to be a common survival and the archetypal landscape of the region—has demonstrated that of 2,000 medieval townships studied, only 104 retained more than 18 per cent of their ridge and furrow earthworks in 1998, with many serious losses occurring in the last five years. What was once common and unregarded is now rare and threatened, and few sites now survive which could be used to educate children about classic medieval strip-farming;[21]

  This background of continuing damage to historic landscape features and other environmental assets needs to be fully appreciated by those concerned with devising agricultural policy for the future.

How better stewardship of agricultural land can be promoted, and the opportunities and difficulties faced by agriculture as a result of possible reductions in production subsidies

  9.  English Heritage considers that the Government has already taken important steps to secure better stewardship of agricultural land in England through its decision, in 1999, to commence the gradual transfer of resources from the first to the second pillar of the CAP, and through the measures it put into place by means of the England Rural Development Programme. We believe that, if more widely applied, the philosophy which underpins the Programme—balancing concern for the environment (including the historic environment) with wider social and economic factors—could provide the foundation for a farming industry which is more environmentally sustainable. The increased emphasis, within the Programme, on greater regional and local involvement in land management decisions is also laudable. If this is further strengthened in the future, we believe that this will be an important contribution to agriculture regaining much-needed public esteem.

  10.  We have set out the conflicts between the long-term conservation of unique and irreplaceable historic features and the current unsustainable agricultural regime promote by the CAP in some detail above. From this it is clear that the potential benefits to the historic environment of a more sustainable farming regime would be considerable. This regime could involve a far greater commitment than at present to the repair, maintenance and sympathetic re-use of traditional farm buildings; the improved management of archaeological and historic landscape features; the restoration of historic parkland; the removal from damaging arable cultivation of the most significant archaeological features; and enhanced public access to, and appreciation of, the historic features of the countryside.

  11.  Many historic sites are already ecologically diverse. Some survive as islands of grassland in highly cultivated "prairies". Others preserve important priority habitats, such as wood pasture within historic parklands. Conversely many of the management problems experienced by historic sites reflect wider landscape-scale problems of soil or water conservation. Therefore, while care of historic features for their own sake should be an important part of any future strategy for sustainable land-management, action based on an holistic appreciation of the environment will also help to deliver key biodiversity objectives, and measures beneficial to the historic resource can be seamlessly integrated within wider soil protection or wetland management initiatives. This integrated approach to environmental protection—with the potential for "multiple wins"—is already a key feature of the ERDP, with all four of the national conservation agencies represented on its advisory committees. While there is a considerable way to go in achieving full integration in scheme delivery "on the ground", encouraging progress has already been made, particularly in the context of projects to facilitate integrated land management, such as the pilot schemes carried out at Bodmin or the Forest of Bowland, and the Countryside Agency led Land Management Initiatives. Projects such as these, will however, need to be adequately resourced over a far longer term than has currently been the case, if they are to realise their full potential.

  12.  Despite the encouraging first steps delivered by the Agenda 2000 reforms, the process is very far from complete. Many environmentally perverse incentives to farmers remain in place and the scale of "second pillar" expenditure remains insignificant when compared to production and export supports still running at some £3 billion annually. Furthermore, the costs of remedying the environmental impacts of intensive farming—a sum which in 1996 was estimated at £2,343 million—still remain largely external to the industry, and are not reflected in the purchase cost of food, continuing instead to be met by the taxpayer.

  13.  At this stage, therefore, the ERDP remains an ambitious and courageous experiment. If the model of sustainable land management, which lies at the heart of the ERDP, is to be fully realised, far more determined action will be required on the part of government both at the national and international level. Environmentally damaging production subsidies and quotas must be phased out in the short to medium-term, rather than the long-term; the resources available to the Programme need to be radically increased by further modulation towards the 20 per cent ceiling permitted under the Rural Development Regulation; and the Programme's agri-environment schemes need to be extended to the majority, rather than a minority, of farmland.


  14.  In conclusion, English Heritage wishes to see:

    —  a future for the farming industry which rewards farmers for their commitment as land managers and which recognises that their social and economic contribution goes far beyond the production of food;

    —  farming carried out more sustainably and in a manner which conserves and enhances historic features, biodiversity and the locally distinctive character of the landscape;

    —  greater engagement of rural communities in decisions pertaining to agriculture and landscape management, leading to restoration of public confidence in the farming industry; and

    —  increased public access to and understanding of the countryside and its historic features.

  15.  In order to achieve this vision, we believe reform of the CAP is essential and we have recently developed a 10-point list of actions that we believe should be considered now, or following the mid-term review of the ERDP. While some of our proposed actions relate to our particular interest in the historic environment, many are equally applicable for those whose concerns relate to biodiversity and the conservation of natural resources.

  We recommend:

    (i)  enhanced funding of the English Programme by progressively increasing the rate of modulation to reach the 20 per cent ceiling permitted under the Rural Development Regulation by 2007;

    (ii)  better integration of Programme measures—such as the agri-environment schemes, the Woodland Grant Scheme, and the Rural Enterprise Scheme—based on a clearer recognition of the social and economic contribution made by the historic environment, biodiversity and landscape character;

    (iii)  greater local accountability in targeting and rates of grant-aid for all Programme measures, within a framework agreed nationally, and with adequate representation of local authority and non-governmental historic environment interests on national and regional advisory bodies;

    (iv)  simplification of the current English agri-environment schemes to create a single scheme which:

      —  draws on the best elements of the existing schemes both in England, the UK devolved administrations, and Europe;

      —  provides incentives to farmers to protect the existing environmental quality of their land, as well as to restore degraded environmental assets;

      —  provides greater support to farmers for environmental enhancements, particularly in those areas where uptake has previously been limited by inadequate incentives (such as arable reversion and traditional farm building restoration, in the case of the historic environment), balanced by a more critical and informed targeting of resources on the most significant assets;

      —  makes greater use of landscape-scale project targeting and whole-farm planning;

      —  permits selective farm survey initiatives where the existing evidence base is inadequate to support decision-making;

      —  is administratively simple in order to encourage uptake and participation;

    (v)  greater emphasis on the facilitation of applications by communities and individuals, including enhanced and better co-ordinated environmental and business advisory services;

    (vi)  greater recognition of the special role of local authorities in providing advice to DEFRA on the historic environment in relation to Programme measures, and new initiatives to support and enhance that role;

    (vii)  further strengthening of DEFRA's in-house expertise in the historic environment in order to match more closely its in-house expertise in the natural environment;

    (viii)  increased commitment by DEFRA to undertaking social, economic and scientific research on the historic and natural environment, in order to underpin and strengthen the evidence base for Programme measures, including joint research initiatives with the historic environment sector;

    (ix)  adoption of procedures for consultation and advice on the historic environment for the Organic Farming and the Energy Crop Schemes, which are based on "best-practice" models already in use for the agri-environment schemes; and

    (x)  implementing the discretionary "cross-compliance" provisions of the Agenda 2000 reforms, requiring minimum environmental standards on landholdings in receipt of production and export support payments.

English Heritage

13 December 2001

15   The Monuments at Risk Survey of England 1995 Bournemouth University and English Heritage, 1998. Back

16   Monuments at Risk in England's Wetlands, English Heritage and Exeter University, forthcoming. Back

17   Hedgerow Survey, Institute of Terrestrial Ecology 1994. Back

18   The condition of England's dry stone walls, Countryside Commission 1996. Back

19   Accounting for nature: assessing habitats in the UK countryside, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and DETR, 2000. Back

20   Buildings at Risk: a sample survey, English Heritage 1992. Back

21   Turning the Plough, Midlands open fields: landscape character and proposals for management, English Heritage and Northamptonshire County Council. Back

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